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$1bn Vision Catalyst Fund to be established to provide vision to entire populations across the world

Children in Botswana receive instructions on how to do an eyesight test.

Credit: Peek Vision

It has been announced that work has begun on an ambitious multi-stakeholder initiative to lay the foundations for a new $1bn Vision Catalyst Fund to bring eye care to all people in the Commonwealth and around the world.

Building on the major achievements in eye health over recent years, led by governments, NGOs, philanthropists and corporates, civil society, public and private sector organisations have joined forces with expertise in eye health – including Peek Vision – to develop the Vision Catalyst Fund over the next two years. Once operational, the $1billion Vision Catalyst Fund will seek to accelerate systems change and expand universal eye health services led by governments, to provide sustainable and efficient long term solutions for eye health to entire populations in Commonwealth countries and across the globe.

Speaking about the $1bn Vision Catalyst Fund, Dr Astrid Bonfield CBE, said:

“I am delighted that a diverse range of partners are coming together to help develop and progress this exciting and ambitious initiative with the potential to create new approaches to funding eye health. We have a big job ahead of us to shape the Fund, attract investors and ensure collaboration with governments to meet the needs of millions of people yet to be reached. But we have the solutions for universal eye health. We know they work. We now have an historic opportunity to work in partnership and create a fund that can bring sight to entire populations across the Commonwealth and the world.” 

85 million people in the Commonwealth today are blind or have very poor vision. Globally, 2.5 billion people lack access to glasses, 1.1 billion of whom need glasses to improve their near vision. As the world’s population grows and ages, these numbers are set to grow significantly. Without urgent action millions more people around the Commonwealth and across the world will experience the social, educational and economic hardship that poor eyesight can bring.

Speaking at the Commonwealth Day Service in Westminster Abbey in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen, Dr Andrew Bastawrous, CEO of Peek Vision said: 

“For the first time in human history, it is within our power to eliminate avoidable blindness and poor vision, for everybody, everywhere. Every country in the Commonwealth has the opportunity to transform their citizens’ eye health, in a matter of years, not generations.  But no country can do this alone.  Our work would not be possible without collaboration from our friends and partners in Kenya, India, Botswana and beyond.

By working together, we can make that future better for millions of citizens across the Commonwealth, and across the world.  At a time where there is such focus on division, vision can unite all of us.  That’s why, inspired by the leadership shown in Botswana and by the commitment of many others, leading eye health organisations and banks are working together to establish a $1 Billion Catalyst Fund to enable all Commonwealth countries to move towards universal eye health.”

Vision is crucial to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. In addition to the often devastating impact blindness and poor eyesight has on individuals and the families who care for them, it prevents societies from reaching their full economic potential.Women and girls are disproportionately affected, particularly by diseases like trachoma – the leading infectious cause of blindness worldwide. If proven, simple and cost-effective treatments, for example glasses and cataract surgery, are made universally accessible, billions of dollars in increased productivity and reduced healthcare costs will be gained by the global economy. 

James Chen, Founder of Clearly, said:

“I am delighted to commit $10 million to the Vision Catalyst Fund and become its first funder. The issue of poor vision is unique in terms of the number of people affected, the simplicity of the solution which in most cases is a pair of glasses, and high returns for both improving people’s lives and the local economy. I am prepared to meet anyone who is interested in matching my contribution and discuss why this issue can no longer be forgotten.”

David Fein, Chairman of Standard Chartered’s Seeing is Believing programme, said:

“Tackling visual impairment and avoidable blindness is incredibly important to Standard Chartered. Over the past 15 years, we have raised nearly $100 million, implemented 167 eye health projects across 37 countries, and reached more than 163 million people. The Vision Catalyst fund is an exciting new chapter that allows us to continue this work on a broader scale in partnership with leading NGOs, governments, and corporate and individual philanthropists.”

Tom Hall, Head of UBS Philanthropy Services UK, said:

“The UBS Optimus Foundation has funded programmes in eye health in partnership with UBS clients and believes that the ambition of the Vision Catalyst Fund to leverage $1BN of funding into effective and measurable programmes that ensure vision for all is one that both we and our clients will want to support. As part of our UBS Global Visionaries program, we look forward to support the Trust, Andrew and the Peek Vision team and others in the partnership to determine the precise nature of the fund and how a formal commitment to the fund could look like in the near future.”

Jayanth Bhuvaraghan, Chief Mission Officer at Essilor International, said:

“As the global leader in ophthalmic optics, Essilor has the ambition to eradicate uncorrected poor vision in one generation. While we’re making good progress, we firmly believe in the power of cross sector partnerships as the only way to bring good vision to everyone, everywhere. The timing of the Vision Catalyst Fund couldn’t be better and it has tremendous potential to realise our common dream. We congratulate The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust for creating this Fund and extend our full support.”

The news of the $ 1 billion Vision Catalyst Fund comes ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London and Windsor in April. Peek Vision is working with other leading eye health agencies under the “Vision for the Commonwealth” banner to call on Commonwealth leaders to bring vision to everyone, everywhere and for each country to commit to taking one significant action by 2020 towards that goal.   

The organisations involved include Standard Chartered, UBS, Essilor International, Peek Vision, Clearly, Sightsavers, the Fred Hollows Foundation and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness.